Noriko never really cared about high school. She always thought it was a colossal waste of time and couldn’t wait to finish it. She knew her father was looking forward to her graduation: he had to drop out of his school when she was born. There was no way she would be able to go to college: her father didn’t have remotely that much money, and her grades were nothing to be proud of.

That was yesterday, before she became the smartest being on the planet.

Now she’s just standing in the hallway, her mind overwhelmed by the stream of information. Every face is connected to thousands of emails, forum discussions, tweets. The noise is too chaotic to understand any of it. Unable to disconnect from it, Noriko’s mind is in overdrive.

-You okay there? – Jane asks her, snapping her fingers in front of her eyes.

Noriko comes back to Earth looking at Jane and the noise disappears. She already knows everything there is to know about Jane Blake, after all.

-You kinda zoned out for a moment.

-I was…distracted. What was the question again?

-I said, where were you last night?

-Why do you ask?

-Gee, could it be ‘cause something crashed every window in the city? They say it was a meteor. I can’t believe they’re making us go to school today – Jane answers, opening her locker.

Noriko’s seen her do this every day for years. Jane’s been her closest friend since she was ten. But now something’s off. Something about her feels alien.

-Come on, you can tell me. You weren’t home ‘cause you went out with Jeff, didn’t you? I thought you two broke up last month, but…Nori? Hello?

Noriko has frozen in place again, staring at her locker. She takes a book, looking at its cover with a mixture of fear and disgust.

-This is all so…small. So very small. Everything I used to know wouldn’t even fill half of this.

-Is this your way to tell me that you didn’t study for today’s test?

-This is all wrong!!! We split the atom, we went to other planets, we discovered the origin of the universe! We rule this world! Why are we wasting time like this!?

Noriko slams the locker shut and Jane takes a step back. There was enough rage and volume in Noriko’s voice to silence the lively chatter of a high school hallway.

She turns towards them, and her silver eyes glow for an instant.

-What are you looking at?

The bell rings. This is the first time Jane’s ever been truly scared of her best friend.

-Let’s just get this over with – Noriko says, walking towards the classroom.

 

Noriko’s never been good at math. Her grades have never been something to brag about in any subject, but math’s been her sworn enemy since grade school.

Mr. Bennett has been her teacher for the last three years and knows this very well. When he notices she’s started to write furiously as soon as he’s handled her the test, the first thing he thinks is that she’s joking or cheating. He stands right besides her, waiting until she finishes in record time.

Noriko draws a circle on the first page and slashes it, like the symbol for the null set, and handles it to Mr. Bennett.

-Is that your signature or did you just grade yourself? –  he asks, causing the classroom to laugh.

-I am the only one qualified to – she answers, deadly serious.

-Very funny, miss Null – he says, ready to reprimand her, when his eyes pause on the test for a little while. Everything is right.

-How did you do this? – he asks. She couldn’t have cheated, he was looking at her the whole time.

-I know all the answers.

-Really – he says sarcastically, looking at the test again. He just can’t believe his eyes; Noriko’s best grade ever was a C minus. This is easily an A plus.

-Would you mind to come to the blackboard? The rest of you, keep working – he says to the rest of the class, which has lost what little interest it had on the test.

-Let’s do another test. Can you solve this? – mr. Bennett asks, writing something on the wall. Last time Noriko tried to do this in her last test, she got an F.

-Too easy – she answers, wiping out the expression with her sleeve. Not even bothering with an answer.

-Very well, Noriko. Show me what you know.

 

Bob Null walks towards the classroom, ignoring the smiles and giggles of the girls. It’s not easy being the janitor in your daughter’s school, but it can be worse if all of her friends have had a crush on you. He only recognizes Jane, walking towards him; she looks distressed.

-Mr Null, what are you doing here?

-Bennett called me while I definitely wasn’t in the storage room with mrs. DeMartino.

-What? Nevermind. Did something happen to Noriko? She’s kind of crazy today. I’m really worried about her.

-It’s probably just a phase – he answers, walking past her and into the classroom.

Mr Bennett is sitting on his desk and looks devastated. His tie is loose, the hair is a mess, and he looks like he’s smoked a thousand cigarettes.

Noriko is writing something on the blackboard. Bob doesn’t recognize it and can’t keep up with it: as soon as she’s finished filling the blackboard, she wipes it clean and just goes on.

-I’ve been teaching math for thirty years, Bob, but now I feel like I’ve failed kindergarten. Your kid…she went from calculus to chaos theory in ten minutes. She said something about string theory and quantum chromodynamics twenty minutes ago and I just lost her.

-What is she writing?

-I have no idea. I can’t follow her anymore. Bob…has your daughter ever taken an IQ test?

-Years ago – Bob nods, looking at her daughter writing like she’s in some sort of trance – She scored 101. Just…average, they said.

 

Noriko is drinking her soda, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the school. Between her feet there are six empty cans and a dozen sheets of paper, all full of writings from top to bottom.

-Two hundred and sixty-five – says Jane, approaching her friend.

-It’s not accurate. It needs to be adjusted for age and other variables – Noriko clarifies.

-So what’s your real IQ, genius?

-Unlikely to be measured in a meaningful way.

-Come on, Nori, talk to me. The least you can do is tell me what’s happening.

-Stop calling me that.

-What?

-I’m not Nori anymore. I am Null – Noriko answers, standing up and showing her friend a sheet of paper with the same symbol she used to sign the test. A slashed zero.

-Noriko is a drop in the ocean and I feel like I’m drowning. There’s so much stuff in my head now I feel like it can explode if I relax for a second. I am Null; I must be Null.

-Nori, you’re scaring me now. Nothing you say makes any sense, you know that?

Noriko smiles and shakes Jane’s hand.

-Of course. Null knows everything. Goodbye, Jane Blake, you were a good friend.

Just like that, Noriko leaves. Jane still can’t believe they’re having this conversation. Noriko has always had her quirks, but she sounds crazy now. Would a crazy person become that smart that quickly?

-Where are you going? – she asks.

-I’m leaving high school – Noriko answers without even looking back.

-What!? Why?

-I don’t want anyone else to be caught in the explosion.



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